Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Another Word about Life

When I envision what I’m about to write in a blog post, I see an overall structure of what I expect to say, and then I’m surprised about how many words it takes to accomplish my plan. My last post was such a post. I thought, before I started writing, that I would just give a little background, and then I would write my personal viewpoint. But just laying the background turned out to be a long post in and of itself. Then I’ve had to decide if the personal viewpoint is still worth telling. I’m going ahead as if it is.

My experience is that the unborn life is my child to love. The baby moves, has a heartbeat, his own DNA.
I’m going to share a poem I wrote thirty years ago. I am not a particularly accomplished poet. I used to write more; now I manage to come up with about one a year for Mr. Political Sphere for Valentine’s Day. But during the childbearing years I wrote enough that I have a small collection of them I refer to as The Motherhood Poems. This one is from my first pregnancy, about the beginning of the second trimester. I was reading parenting magazines and learning all I could about this new passion and calling. One of the books I read detailed development you could expect at each week’s gestation. That is the essence of the poem below, my first conversation with this child—a boy, but we didn’t know that until birth, back before ultrasounds were as clear as they are today.
This child I was talking to was born about two and a half months later—more than three months early. We got to hold him for only a matter of hours, with all kinds of tubes hooked up to him in hopes of overcoming the first hurdle—breathing. After thirteen hours, we realized we weren’t going to get that miracle and had to say goodbye. But there were some profound things I learned about developing life from that difficult experience.
I learned that a baby can look complete and perfect when born at 23 weeks. He was small, a little over a foot, a little under two pounds. But he looked fully human—enough that we could recognize him and see features of family members that he resembled. I think he may have looked a lot like my husband’s paternal grandfather, who was near 90 at the time. The spirit that was in my baby made him so completely alive and lovable. Days later at the funeral home, my mother-in-law was there with me to see how they had dressed him and prepared the casket. I remember wanting to share with her how beautiful he had been alive, how less than him the tiny remaining body was. I couldn’t express it.
In our religion we believe we will live together as families again after we die; he is not completely lost to us. There are times when I have seemed to see him in my mind, looking grown up, tall like my other boys and his dad. My daughter has a similar vision of him and describes him as I would; she even remembers eye color, which I cannot.
I believe this: my young son was alive within me; he was alive those few hours with us; and as a resurrected human being he lives yet again. His whole person is even more important to our Heavenly Father than he has been to me. Life of this little angel was such a blessing to have. His life matters.
So here is the poem:

Twelfth Week Talk 

It’s strange to me not knowing you,
So close in proximity.
I know my love is growing along with you,
But we haven’t talked together before now. 

I’ve read about you; yes, a little.
This week you’re growing fingernails.
Good luck with that endeavor;
I still have trouble growing mine.

And I saw you, a sort of picture
On a screen the doctor showed me.
I saw your head and form
Enlivened by a heartbeat—and mine quickened.

Yes, now I know you’re more than indigestion.
So much more that I panic weekly
That I may not be grown up enough
For you to grow from me. 

It’s only perspective now that separates us,
Now you know what I have long forgotten.
And I know what you’ve yet to feel.
Remember where you are—will you, for me? 

If you remember, then you will know
Why you must hurt and hunger here.
But I will hold you;
I will fill your hunger while I can. 

I will teach you to remember
That where you are is love-filled home,
For here we fill our home with love
In that same, not quite forgotten tradition. 

I’ve enjoyed this little talk.
We’ll do this again soon
So I can help you feel at home in the neighborhood
Until you’re ready to meet more of it. 

—Linda Nuttall
                                August 24, 1982

Monday, January 28, 2013

Life Matters

TX State Sen. Dan Patrick at TX pro-life rally Saturday
photo from Dan Patrick's Facebook page
I don’t often write about the issue of abortion, because there are so many dedicated civilized people who express well the side of life. I thank them for that. But this past week marked 40 years since the Roe v. Wade decision, and after so many millions of babies have been killed, I want to add my voice at this time.

There is a rhetorical technique used by the opposition to truth: deny and contradict over time, then admit to the veracity of the statement while adding, “So what?” Bill Clinton’s “I did not have sex with that woman” is a classic example. Months later, after all the denials, when the proof was undeniable, he admitted to the original accusation along with, “It was only my private life,” a version of so what?
Hillary Clinton used it this past week in her “testimony” to Congress about Benghazi. She said,
With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night decided they'd go kill some Americans? What difference, at this point, does it make? It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again, Senator.
We know for certain—and she knew the day of the event, if she wasn’t entirely out of the loop of national security—that it was neither a protest nor “guys out for a walk”; it was terrorists. So, months after the event, saying over and over, “we don’t know,” when we know, and we know she knows, she deflects by avoiding the real issue and saying, “what difference does it make?” or, in other words, it doesn’t matter, who cares? so what?
I had not expected the so what? technique to be used on the abortion issue. But that is what I recognized this week is now happening.
The argument over abortion has continued to be over whether the fetus is human life or not: if yes, then that human life is to be valued and protected as other human life; if not, then the woman is simply making a choice about a clump of cells that are part of her own body. This same argument has continued for decades.
As technology gets better, it has become clearer and clearer that the growing fetus is a human baby, with its own DNA separate from the mother’s, with the ability to feel and hear within the cushioning environment of the womb—including feeling pain. Technology has improved greatly on moving the viability to earlier and earlier weeks. The result of this technological progress has been that only a handful of doctors are still willing to perform third trimester abortions; people who understand the procedure are virtually unanimous in disapproving of partial-birth abortion. Laws now recognize the death of a fetus as separate and additional to the death of a mother in accidents or murders.
What I expected, being the positive, civilized person I strive to be, is that more and more people would become convinced that the growing life is a valuable human life, and would move from “the choice is up to the mother” to “because it’s human life, we need to value and protect it.” What I did not expect was the so what? at this point.
Mary Katherine Ham wrote a piece last week referring to a Salon piece that I find shocking. The Salon writer, Mary Elizabeth Williams, admits, very clearly, as practically any pro-life person would, that the fetus is a human life separate from the mother. These are the paragraphs Ham highlights:
I have friends who have referred to their abortions in terms of “scraping out a bunch of cells” and then a few years later were exultant over the pregnancies that they unhesitatingly described in terms of “the baby” and “this kid.” I know women who have been relieved at their abortions and grieved over their miscarriages. Why can’t we agree that how they felt about their pregnancies was vastly different, but that it’s pretty silly to pretend that what was growing inside of them wasn’t the same? Fetuses aren’t selective like that. They don’t qualify as human life only if they’re intended to be born.
When we try to act like a pregnancy doesn’t involve human life, we wind up drawing stupid semantic lines in the sand: first trimester abortion vs. second trimester vs. late term, dancing around the issue trying to decide if there’s a single magic moment when a fetus becomes a person. Are you human only when you’re born? Only when you’re viable outside of the womb? Are you less of a human life when you look like a tadpole than when you can suck on your thumb?
As I said, I would expect such understanding to lead to the decision to protect life. But Williams goes the exact opposite direction. On the pro-life side (actually, on the side of truth for many issues), we are subject to the imposition of terms from the opposition. Pro-choice is an example. This term is particularly repugnant because it’s not about choice to act; it is about choice of consequences. If a woman purposely engages in sex, she has made the choice to risk pregnancy—the creation of a new human life. If she does that and then finds she is pregnant when she doesn’t want to be, does she then have the right to choose to avoid the natural consequences—when a separate human life is now involved? Pro-life people are pro-choice—you get to choose your behavior, but God’s natural laws choose the consequences that follow your choice.
The president revealed his disapproval of God’s law when he said (off script at a Townhall in Johnstown, PA, during the 2008 campaign), of the hypothetical that one of his own daughters could finding herself pregnant, “If they make a mistake, I don’t want them punished with a baby.” This is the same person who, in the Illinois legislature, went further than any pro-abortionist to insist a mother has the right to bring about the death of a baby after birth if she hadn’t intended for the baby to be born alive.
The Salon writer expresses her distress that the term “pro-life” is too strong to fight against. So, she grants that the fetus is indeed a human life, and then says so what?
Here’s the complicated reality in which we live: All life is not equal. That’s a difficult thing for liberals like me to talk about, lest we wind up looking like death-panel-loving, kill-your-grandma-and-your-precious-baby storm troopers. Yet a fetus can be a human life without having the same rights as the woman in whose body it resides….
The “life” conversation is often too thorny to even broach. Yet I know that throughout my own pregnancies, I never wavered for a moment in the belief that I was carrying a human life inside of me. I believe that’s what a fetus is: a human life. And that doesn’t make me one iota less solidly pro-choice.
She believes, unlike our founders, that some human life isn’t worth protecting, but calls those of us who believe “that all men are created equal” are “wingnuts” and “archconservatives” and “right wingers,” while insisting her viewpoint is the reasonable side of the debate.
So let me be clear: there is nothing civilized about a person who chooses to kill a human life because it is not convenient for her to allow him or her to live. That behavior—the very line of thinking that leads to that behavior—is savage.
Thank the Lord if you can still recognize the difference. The slip from apparent civilization to savagery among the Germans and Japanese in the last century was amazingly swift. It coincided with the faulty belief that some human lives are inferior and not worth bothering about.
In a civilized world, we can never say, “So what if it’s human life? What does that matter?” Life matters.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Measuring Rulers

There is a significant difference between the rulers in Freedom (northern hemisphere on the Spherical Model) and Tyranny (southern hemisphere). In tyranny, the ruler controls the governed based on the authority of something like accident of birth (royal lineages, for example) or having garnered more firepower with which to coerce behavior. In freedom, the ruler has only the authority granted by the consent of the governed.

Tyrants seem to believe that “good” is defined as what they the rulers are, what they believe, and what they do. Leaders of free people define “good” as “what God has declared is right,” given in the revelation of scripture and upheld by a righteous people who mostly govern themselves. The tyrant claims goodness and perfection embodied in the ruler. The free people recognize the limits of human nature, including the corrupting influence of power, and therefore limit the power of any leader over the people.
The tyrant believes in classes, with certain strata being privileged while others are deprived of privileges. The free people believe that all people are created equal and are guaranteed certain inalienable rights given by God.
So it might be possible to measure a ruler (leader, or potential leader) based on the person’s belief in God, adherence to God’s law (try looking first at the Ten Commandments), and whether the person puts himself above the people being led.
Have there been good kings, historically? You can probably find a few. But if they were good, they followed God’s laws, which naturally bring the most freedom to all. And the people ruled by them were simply lucky, during that temporary rule, because righteous kings are not nearly as common as the alternative.
There’s a quote from Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court that I have long found useful:
Unlimited power is the ideal thing when it is in safe hands. The despotism of heaven is the one absolutely perfect government. An earthly despotism would be the absolutely perfect earthly government, if the conditions were the same, namely, the despot the perfectest individual of the human race, and his lease of life perpetual. But as a perishable perfect man must die, and leave his despotism in the hands of an imperfect successor, an earthly despotism is not merely a bad form of government, it is the worst form that is possible (Chapter X, “Beginnings of Civilization”).

I happened upon a chapter of scripture yesterday that makes a similar claim and goes on to detail some of the difficulty of getting out from under such a tyrant, and therefore recommends choosing leaders by the voice of the people:
13 Now it is better that a man should be judged of God than of man, for the judgments of God are always just, but the judgments of man are not always just.
14 Therefore, if it were possible that you could have just men to be your kings, who would establish the laws of God, and judge this people according to his commandments,… if this could always be the case then it would be expedient that ye should always have kings to rule over you….
16 Now I say unto you, that because all men are not just it is not expedient that ye should have a king or kings to rule over you.
17 For behold, how much iniquity doth one wicked king cause to be committed, yea, and what great destruction!...
21 And behold, now I say unto you, ye cannot dethrone an iniquitous king save it be through much contention, and the shedding of much blood.
22 For behold, he has his friends in iniquity, and he keepeth his guards about him; and he teareth up the laws of those who have reigned in righteousness before him; and he trampleth under his feet the commandments of God;
23 And he enacteth laws and sendeth them forth among his people, yea, laws after the manner of his own wickedness; and whosoever doth not obey his laws he causeth to be destroyed; and whosoever doth rebel against him he will send his armies against them to war and if he can he will destroy them; and thus an unrighteous king doth pervert the ways of all righteousness….
25 Therefore, choose you by the voice of this people, judges, that ye may be judged according to the laws which have been given you by our fathers, which are correct, and which were given them by the hand of the Lord.
26 Now it is not common that the voice of the people desireth anything contrary to that which is right; but it is common for the lesser part of the people to desire that which is not right; therefore this shall ye observe and make it your law—to do your business by the voice of the people. (Book of Mormon, Mosiah 29)

We live in what is designed to be a free country. The founders strictly limited government power to best protect our God-given rights. But we are seeing that, even with the written guarantees, it is the tendency of leaders to usurp power—especially when they don’t see the full vision of prosperity that God has offered us. If they are closed to viewing only the southern hemisphere, with the alternatives of either statist tyranny or the tyranny of chaos, they put themselves forward to have power over others as the alternative to others having power over them. They are blind to the variety of happiness our founders meant to make permanent.
It took the Declaration of Independence, followed by a long and bloody Revolutionary War, followed by some trial and error leading to the Constitutional Convention that brought about our miraculous American experiment in freedom. As we see that slipping away, how do we regain the freedom, without a similar convergence of education and resolve within a righteous people? I don’t know. I don’t think it’s possible. For now, the beginning of an answer is to be personally righteous, educated in truth, and resolved to stand firm—and then hope that our vision spreads. It is a time to try our souls.

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Dreamer

Back when I was in elementary school, the federal government hadn’t gotten involved in moving dates to the nearest Monday and deciding which days we would all stop working or going to school. So in those ancient days, we were in school learning about our 16th President, Abraham Lincoln, on February 12th. And then, ten days later we’d be in class learning about our 1st President, George Washington. There are certain things about that world that made sense.
Martin Luther King, Jr., giving "I Have a Dream Speech"
photo found here
Eventually these were combined as a federal day off called Presidents’ Day, on the Monday closest to Washington’s birthday. The only other holiday related to a person was Columbus Day (which also was a day for historical study back in my childhood, rather than a day off). So I felt some natural resistance to making a special federal holiday to honor the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., a man from my lifetime, who was somehow deemed more significant than all our presidents and other historical figures. We had no practices to fill the day, no cultural festivals, no family feasts. So, while I could see noting the day, it seemed to me to make a lot more sense to use school time to cover the significant historical details.
Nevertheless, there has been a day off in mid-January since 1986, mostly used for shopping, as far as I can tell. But last week I drove past a neighborhood school that had on their marquee that school would be held this Monday. So students will actually be in class where they can learn about the man the day is meant to honor. That makes more sense to me.
Some historic details are probably worth noting. MLK, like Gandhi, valued non-violence as a strategy toward change. He stood up for what he believed and was willing to spend time in jail to show his seriousness. That willingness to stand up for principle no matter the unpleasant consequences is something to admire.
MLK was a conservative in many ways that I am. Our Constitution says it guarantees the rights God has given to all human beings. It was not the Constitution that was wrong, but the people in the country who hadn’t opened their eyes to the validity of human rights for all races. So the Constitution was worth conserving. MLK was a Republican, because that party was (and has been, since Lincoln or before) the party ideologically aligned with applying the Constitution to all citizens. Conservatives, half a century ago as well as today, look at MLK’s words, and find resonating truth.
His “I Have a Dream” speech was given 50 years ago this coming August 28th. I hope schools will take the opportunity to share the speech again at that time. I hope our young people can hear or read the words for themselves and understand them without any rewriting of history.
For today I thought I’d quote a few words from that speech, plus a few other favorites phrases from this man who was able to speak so clearly and convincingly.

I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal."
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

Faith is taking the first step, even when you don’t see
the whole staircase.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that. 
There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right. 
Never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was legal. 
Intelligence plus character-that is the goal of true education.


Thursday, January 17, 2013

Gun Non-Violence

As one who loves our Constitution, I have strong feelings in favor of the 2nd Amendment. I don’t write about that issue very often, because there are many others who are more clearly laying out the issue than I can. But the onslaught since last month, along with the president’s unprecedented 23 executive order yesterday, merit some comment.
Here are the two main points:
·       The main purpose of the 2nd Amendment is to guarantee the God-given right for individuals to protect themselves against attack—from any (Spherical Model) southern hemisphere attacker, either from the chaos side, as criminals are, or from the state tyranny side, either foreign or domestic.

·       The only purpose of an executive order is to direct federal employees in the manner in which they will enforce duly legislated laws; the executive branch does not have power to make laws for individual or all Americans.
One of the best things I’ve read in the past month is a 13-part essay by my Facebook friend Shawn Rogers. He does have a blog, with a small part there: But to get the full essay, you’ll need to “friend” him and start reading in the last half of December 2012. One article he recommends a piece by Larry Correia, from December 20, 2012, called “An Opinion on Gun Control.” It’s a very long but worthwhile piece (18 pages, about 10,000 words). This part comes after you’ve scrolled down a ways (links are from original):
It doesn’t really make sense to ban guns, because in reality what that means is that you are actually banning effective self-defense. Despite the constant hammering by a news media with an agenda, guns are used in America far more to stop crime than to cause crime.
I’ve seen several different sets of numbers about how many times guns are used in self-defense every year. The problem with keeping track of this stat is that the vast majority of the time when a gun is produced in a legal self-defense situation no shots are fired. The mere presence of the gun is enough to cause the criminal to stop….
So how often are guns actually used in self-defense in America?
On the high side the estimate runs around 2.5 million defensive gun uses a year, which dwarfs our approximately 16,000 homicides in any recent year, only 10k of which are with guns. Of those with guns, only a couple hundred are with rifles. So basically, the guns that the anti-gunners are the most spun up about only account for a tiny fraction of all our murders.
But let’s not go with the high estimate. Let’s go with some smaller ones instead. Let’s use the far more conservative 800,000 number which is arrived at in multiple studies. That still dwarfs the number of illegal shootings. Heck, let’s even run with the number once put out by the people who want to ban guns, the Brady Center, which was still around 108,000, which still is an awesome ratio of good vs. bad.
So even if you use the worst number provided by people who are just as biased as me but in the opposite direction, gun use is a huge net positive. Or to put it another way, the Brady Center hates guns so much that they are totally cool with the population of a decent sized city getting raped and murdered every year as collateral damage in order to get what they want.
Unlike the DOJ (I’m referring to the Fast and Furious debacle), I am in favor of keeping guns—of any kind that will shoot even a single bullet—out of the hands of violent criminals. That is already the law. So it’s puzzling why it would take four full years before this president finally mentions to his employees that they should enforce that law.
I am also in favor of keeping guns out of the hands of the criminally insane, even if they haven’t yet committed a violent crime. But doctors are not employees or agents of the federal government, and any directive to them is an overreach. And, as with all power overreaching, the unintended consequences bring about almost exactly the opposite of the stated intended result. If people thank that simply going for treatment for a mental illness, either for themselves or for a family member, could result in forfeiting their 2nd Amendment rights, that discourages people from seeking treatment, resulting in more untreated mentally ill.
While I appreciate having a criminal data base, so that background checks can be quick and thorough, I am against any federal database identifying law-abiding citizens who own guns. There is no Constitutional reason for such a database, but it does hold the potential of laying the groundwork for the federal government to move ahead with an incremental encroachment on our civil liberties.
I appreciate the Texas response to the president’s overreach, pointing out the hypocrisy. I also appreciated the Wyoming response, to arrest any federal agent who attempts to enforce federal gun laws in that state. A growing number of states have responded that they will nullify any attempt by the federal government to infringe on the 2nd Amendment rights of citizens within their states. In addition, various US Congressmen, such as Rand Paul, are putting forth legislation to nullify those 23 executive orders, defund them, and press the Senate to file a court challenge to them.
Standing up against tyranny is exactly what the 2nd Amendment is about, so that’s what I like to see.
That being said, one of the interesting things I came across this week was Glenn Beck’s suggestion on Monday that there is a better way of standing up against tyranny than shooting any federal agent that shows up to take your guns. Resist, but don’t attack. (The full video clip is below.) I’m reminded that Ghandi spent a number of years in prison, when the government was in the wrong to put him there. It may be that, before Americans have a moral right to violently respond, a number must first be willing to say no, stand firm, and suffer even wrongful incarceration, to prove the wrongfulness of the tyranny—which is something best thought of in the calmness of theory before any of us must face it in reality.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Hitting Bottom

A few years ago I had a rather ridiculous accident that has provided me much metaphorical use. The short version is that I have finally been forced to give up any lifelong dream of becoming a firefighter.
It was a homeschooling lobby day at the state capitol—one of the best field trips ever. My daughter had a friend who lived near Austin, where we were having dinner before the three-hour drive home. The house happened to have a fireman’s pole, just for fun. Sort of like the Jonas Brothers on their TV show at the time. I was curious to see it, but I had pictured looking at it from the bottom. Instead, I ended up following the young people up the stairs to see it from above.
I had no interest in using the thing, even when the kids all tried it and landed quite safely below. But my daughter incorrectly assumed I needed the "fun and exciting" experience. I was not firm enough. I explained reasons I felt it was not safe for me to do it—and they kept addressing my concerns, one by one. So, while I don’t know if you could call it peer pressure, since I was an adult and should have known better, I gave in and tried sliding down.
As my husband said later, “You failed to do the math relating to upper body strength versus lower body weight.” True, but probably could have gone without being said to a suffering wife. I went down hard, about as fast as if I had just fallen. I knew immediately I’d hurt my ankle. But at first (and for a couple of weeks) we thought it was probably just a bad sprain. It was swollen and purple right away. I felt more than just a little stupid for having done such a thing when I should have known better. In my defense, I’m the first person, including adults, to have been injured on this fireman’s pole, and they had had parties with dozens of people, young and old, trying it out. I’m just special that way.
The thing is, I knew immediately that I’d made a really bad decision. I even said to my daughter, “I know what repentance is all about; I really really wish I had never done this stupid thing.” And here’s another thing I know about myself: I learn fairly quickly from experience. I even learn from other people’s experience, and from reading or other forms of literature. I am not someone who needs to learn the hard way.
Nevertheless, I had a walking cast for two weeks, when the first x-ray showed nothing. When it didn’t heal, I got a better x-ray with an orthopedist and learned it was broken, in the talus joint, where it was hard to see. I didn’t have to have surgery, fortunately, but I did have a cast that required elevation (and thus a need for a wheelchair) for eight weeks, followed by another five weeks with a walking boot, and several months of physical therapy. And now, almost four years later, I’m aware that there’s some minor permanent damage.
Sometimes the consequences for our actions need to be serious, even if we’re sure they are too harsh.
There are many ways this can be a metaphor for our world. But, for now, I’m thinking economics. For many of us individually, we can see that profligate spending and unmanageable debt will lead, at some point, to financial failure, possibly sudden and seriously painful. If you spend money that is unsupported by wealth, you will fall and land hard. And when you hit bottom, it might take a long time to heal. You will lose wealth-building time, an opportunity cost, in addition.
But once you realize you’ve hit bottom, when you feel the sudden sharp pain, you get very interested in taking the necessary care to bring about healing. Not everyone, apparently, has that natural reaction, however. Things are made worse when someone hits bottom and thinks, “That wasn’t so bad,” and doesn’t change behavior. Who would do that? Someone who’s drunk or otherwise mentally impaired, maybe. Someone who can’t or won’t perceive reality. In economic terms, someone perhaps drunk with the power of spending other people’s money. Someone who has never been held accountable for the reckless behavior.
The question of our time is, how do we get the monstrously insensitive “government” to stop spending money unsupported by wealth? To stop leaping off an economic cliff that has already resulted in a 5-year economic malaise including at least two credit rating downgrades?
I have seen a few people in my life who have hit bottom—well beyond what I would consider hitting bottom. But, for them, the gravitational crash isn’t hard enough to convince them to change their behavior. They somehow think, “I can endure this; it’s not that bad.” I’ve seen that happen to a loved one who went through several attempts at alcohol rehab, lost the right to drive (re-wired the car to avoid the breathalyzer), lost family, friends, jobs, health, and finally died of liver failure. Nothing ever felt like a hard enough landing to permanently change behavior. I’ve seen a friend’s child go through several years of youth rehabilitation camp, prison, loss of family, mental institution, more rehab, and using people who care about him to keep him off the street—and the result is still, “It’s not that bad; I can handle it without actually changing.”
Economically speaking, what I’m afraid of is that, what I see as already hitting bottom is considered “not that bad” by enough people that the country as a whole moves inexorably toward more pain—until things get so uncomfortable that finally people wake up and say, “Oh, now I get it; we can’t keep spending like this when we don’t have it.” The sooner the better. Repentance—turning 180 degrees to the right direction—is hard and requires possibly a fair amount of painful rehabilitation, but is very much preferable to more serious falls or death (bankruptcy or worse?), which is the ultimate bottom to hit.


Friday, January 11, 2013

Influence for Good or Bad

Several years ago I read a book that keeps coming back to me. It’s Influencer: The Power to Change Anything, by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, David Maxfield, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler. I’ve read others by them: Crucial Conversations, and Change Anything, which I reread just a couple of months ago. With the best of intentions, they look as ways to bring about change in self and in organizations and societies. The authors together are a consulting group called VitalSmarts, and they reference a research lab on change (with more information at
There are a couple of case examples that have stuck with me. One was how a village in Nigeria went about annihilating the Guinea worm parasite. People who had lived with this painful pestilence had to learn to change many things: filter their water, keep infected people away from the water supply, and confront their neighbors to do the same—until the worm could be eradicated completely. Another case was dealing with the fight against AIDS in South Africa. Part of the problem was that violence, including sexual violence, against women was socially acceptable. The problem solvers developed a TV program that appealed to male and female viewers, and featured an abused wife. She was a likable character. The husband was also generally likable, very much like the viewers. But then they viewed the abuse and talked about it. As the character came to recognize the wrongness of his behavior, the viewers recognized it as well. The story is more complex than I can retell here, but social pressure influenced society to reduce the domestic violence.
The authors simultaneously use six areas of influence (more than I can ever keep in mind all at the same time). Graphically, it’s summarized in this 2x3 chart.
Influencer, p. 78
I’ve wondered how we can use these ideas for the repair of civilization. I’m convinced such repair can be done, if the right people go about it the right way. The authors have convinced me it’s possible, but I don’t personally have the answers—yet.
But this week I thought of their process in a totally difference context. Breitbart came up with C-SPAN video from 1995 of Eric Holder revealing a long-term plan to influence society. Holder says it this way:
What we need to do is change the way in which people think about guns, especially young people, and make it something that's not cool, that it's not acceptable, it's not hip to carry a gun anymore, in the way in which we changed our attitudes about cigarettes.
Using advertising, media, including Hollywood, and local and federal government, his intention was a public campaign “to really brainwash people into thinking about guns in a vastly different way.” So, this past month, looking at the illogical attacks on law-abiding gun owners, as if they (we) and not insane outlaws are the perpetrators of violence, is more than a little disturbing. Could Holder et al. actually change society to come to believe the second amendment is evil? If they actually use the six areas of influence, yes they could.
On the other hand, if we use influence techniques for good, they will fail.
The second amendment is not the only issue being influenced by people in the wrong who nevertheless understand how to move public opinion. So what we need are people in the right to come to understand how to move public opinion northward toward civilization.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Old Words New Again

I keep a fairly sizable quote file related to the concepts of the Spherical Model. Some of the collection comes from current articles I’ve just read; others are old or even historic. I noticed a few this week, coming from some older sources, that seem suddenly very current. I haven’t had a quote day in a while, so I thought it was time to share these. Good thoughts never grow old.

"The budget should be balanced, the Treasury should be refilled, public debt should be reduced, the arrogance of officialdom should be tempered and controlled, and the assistance to foreign lands should be curtailed, lest Rome become bankrupt. People must again learn to work instead of living on public assistance."—Cicero, 55 BC 

To preserve our independence, we must not let our rulers load us with perpetual debt. We must take our choice between economy and liberty, or profusion and servitude. If we run into such debts, we must be taxed in our meat and drink, in our necessities and in our comforts, in our labors and in our amusements.

If we can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under pretense of caring for them, they will be happy. The same prudence which in private life would forbid our paying our money for unexplained projects, forbids it in the disposition of public money. We are endeavoring to reduce the government to the practice of rigid economy to avoid burdening the people and arming the magistrate with a patronage of money which might be used to corrupt the principles of our government.—Thomas Jefferson

In the end, more than freedom, they wanted security. They wanted a comfortable life, and they lost it all—security, comfort, and freedom. When the Athenians finally wanted not to give to society but for society to give to them, when the freedom they wished for most was freedom from responsibility, then Athens ceased to be free and was never free again.—Edward Gibbon, historian 

America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.—Abraham Lincoln 

The government will take from the “haves” and give to the “have nots.” Both have lost their freedom. Those who “have,” lost their freedom to give voluntarily of their own free will and in the way they desire. Those who “have not,” lost their freedom because they did not earn what they received. They got “something for nothing,” and they will neither appreciate the gift nor the giver of the gift.—Howard W. Hunter, “The  Law of the Harvest,” BYU devotional address March 8, 1966 

"Perhaps this gets to the root of the matter, to the most fundamental distinction of all between East and West. The totalitarian world produces backwardness because it does such violence to the spirit, thwarting the human impulse to create, to enjoy, to worship. The totalitarian world finds even symbols of love and of worship an affront.”—Ronald Reagan in “Tear Down This Wall” speech 

If the natural tendencies of man are so bad that it is not safe to permit people to be free, how is it that the tendencies of these organizers are always good? Do not the legislators and their appointed agents also belong to the human race? Or do they believe that they themselves are made of a finer clay than the rest of mankind?—Frédéric Bastiat 

"In a real way, each generation of Americans has its chance to re-ratify the Constitution. We can do this by abiding by its principles and by leaving our own legacy to posterity; likewise, by both preserving our rights and filling our responsibilities. ...Re-ratification will require statesmanship among both people and leaders. Statesmanship does not treat symptoms, but cures the underlying diseases. Our founding fathers did statesman-like work in 1776 and 1787. In our time, sadly, we seem preoccupied with treating symptoms, with quick fixes, and with getting by a little longer." (Neal A. Maxwell, "God Mend Thine Every Flaw," July 1993) 

During his 1956 presidential campaign, a woman called out to Adlai Stevenson: “Senator, you have the vote of every thinking person!” Stevenson called back: “That’s not enough, madam, we need a majority!”—Adlai Stevenson quoted in “The Decline and Fall of the American Empire” in Rabbi Pruzansky’s blog 11-7-2012 

“The further a society drifts from truth, the more it will hate those that speak it.”
—George Orwell

Monday, January 7, 2013

That Pesky 3% Plus One

I don’t consider this a political blog. I consider it a philosophical blog, literally about the interrelationships of political,economic, and social spheres. My emphasis, internally, is always on the social sphere—or better labeled the civilization sphere, the opposition between civilization and savagery. Only a people seeking to live the principles required for thriving civilization can expect freedom from tyranny and overall economic prosperity.

But I recognize that public policies affect our freedom, prosperity, and thriving. And refusing to engage in the political world is to leave those public policy decisions in the hands of people who simply don’t have a clear understanding of the way northward on the spheres. So, people like me, who think and care, have an obligation to be at least somewhat engaged in the political sphere. While I am discouraged by the outcome of the last several years of engagement in politics, I am not free of the obligation to try to influence public policy for good. At this point I am still exploring what my efforts should look like—as is true for many like-minded friends at this point.
Let me share some of what I’ve been discovering.
This is from a piece by political consultant Michael I. Rothfeld:
Simply put, politics is not about the common good, appealing to men's better angels, nor serving our Lord. These may be your motivations. Occasionally, they will be a politician's motivation. Politics is the adjudication of power. It is the process by which people everywhere determine who rules whom.
In America, through a brilliant system of rewards and punishments, checks and balances, and diffusion of authority, we have acquired a habit and history of politics mostly without violence and excessive corruption.
The good news for you and me is that the system works.
The bad news is it is hard, and sometimes dirty work, for us to succeed in enacting policy.
There is absolutely no reason for you to spend your time, talent, and money in politics except for this: if you do not, laws will be written and regulations enforced by folks with little or no interest in your well-being.
Further in this piece he has a graphic showing who decides elections. About 70% of adults are eligible to vote (citizens, not felons). Only 40% (about 60% of the eligible) are registered to vote. Of registered voters, a good turnout on election day is 50% of registered voters, so only about 20% of the population. Of that 20%, 7% will always vote Democrat; 7% will always vote GOP. That leaves 6% who are undecided. The vote turns on ½ of that 6% plus one person.
Tyranny of the uninformed—that is what this seems to be. I thought I was doing my part as a citizen, getting informed, studying issues, meeting and studying candidates, sharing what I learned with others who share my concerns, and learning from them what they had learned. And then we went out, with much enthusiasm, and voted. Many of us contacted more other voters than ever before. We connected in person and online in more ways, and much more often, than we had ever done before. Politics took a much larger chunk of our interest than we would like to devote to anything we don’t absolutely love. And what I felt right after the election was a slap in the face, mainly from people on our side saying, “We never had a ground game. We didn’t do the work. We had an enthusiasm gap.” None of that is actually true.
What did happen was that we learned something about “community organizing.” It isn’t really about grassroots informing and gathering like-minded people; it is about manipulating the uninformed. To them it is a game of finding ways, both legal and illegal, of casting more uninformed votes for their own agenda.
I absolutely do not believe that the way to save the nation is to copy that modus operandi and just manipulate more uninformed votes our way. That will not solve the problem that not enough people in our country love the Constitution and the freedom and way of life it represents.
The eventual solution, if there is to be a solution, must include more people choosing freedom because they understand the principles and love the beauty of freedom, prosperity, and civilization and eschew tyranny, economic theft, and savagery. If we don’t have a critical mass of such people, we will be ruled by the people who either purposefully or haphazardly lead us southward into all the interrelated misery that is inevitable.
Sharing the word of God may have a bigger effect on our long-term prosperity as a people than anything we do in the political realm. But that is a long-term separate effort.
In the meantime, is there anything political we can and should do? There’s this:
·         Find other like-minded people (or continue with those you’ve already found) to strengthen your voice.
·         Work to influence the elected officials who actually have the ability to affect policy.
Politicians don’t want to alienate that 3% plus one person. So they try to avoid doing anything too hard or controversial. But, if you pressure the politician, steadily, over the long-term, with some understanding of their position but steadfast on your own, you and your citizen lobbying group can influence for change. He quoted the late Everett Dickson, saying, “When I feel the heat, I see the light.”
During the last state legislative session (in Texas that’s January to June every odd-numbered year), I helped arrange to visit, along with a few other volunteers from our local tea party, all the state officials’ local offices. We took with us a list of legislation we were watching. We followed each legislator’s positions on those issues, asked for commitments when we could. I plan to do these visits again this session. It’s not a huge time commitment, and was a positive experience, with some good outcomes. So, as political efforts go, this is probably a good way.
There must be other ways as well. And I’ll continue looking for them. Because, as frustrating as the situation is, I am not willing to submit to tyranny of the uninformed.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Les Misérables and Hope

One of the other movies we went to during the holidays was the new film version of Les Misérables. I love when art is moving and beautiful, even when the visual image itself is not beautiful. Victor Hugo’s story is one of the most enlightening in literature.
The music, according to my copy, was written in 1987 (I think the musical is actually older than that). I don’t remember becoming aware of it that early. I read the book in the 1990s, a paperback version that was only about 700 pages, because hundreds of pages of French revolutionary history were left out. That made it a relatively easy read (compared to what it could have been). But it wasn’t a light read. It was thought provoking, and full of dilemmas. When I heard that it was going to become a musical, I thought, “How can they turn that heavy work, with a fitting name like Les Misérables, into singing and dancing?” Even though Phantom of the Opera was around, and it wasn’t exactly cheery Debbie Reynolds and Donald O’Connor stuff either, I just couldn’t picture it.
But it turned out to be beautiful as a stage musical/opera. Mr. Spherical Model got to see it on stage in London, but I had settled for concert versions on television and a local high school production—along with listening to a Broadway recording and singing all the alto pieces at the piano. (I do a fair rendition of Fantine’s “I Dreamed a Dream,” but I can’t get the youth in my voice for Eponine’s songs. I sing them all anyway.)
I was concerned about a movie version, that it might not reach expectations, but I was pleased at the cast. A difference between the stage and a movie is the intimacy of the view. Subtle acting is more necessary than on the stage. But there is a difference of opinion about the need for vocal ability. My personal belief is that it would be better to do such a movie by finding great singers who can act. Vocal training is harder to accomplish without years of disciplined practice. Nevertheless, I loved this version. Anne Hathaway became Fantine—better than I had been able to envision her. The situation and the motivations became clear to me, and I felt her personal misery. Her song and then her death scene were the first times I cried. (OK, except for the bishop’s gift of a second chance to Jean Valjean; that got me too.) Anne Hathaway has a voice that handled the intimacy of the close-ups well, and sometimes rang with real beauty.
I’ve heard better Jean Valjeans, but Hugh Jackman made me see the character better than I had before. His voice was not stunning but adequate. Russell Crowe’s voice was only occasionally adequate, but I did like him in the role of Javert.
Mr. Spherical Model pointed out that the vocal range on stage is greater. Without the surround sound of the movie theater, you hear the differences in dynamics better, so the vocal range actually tells the story better. He’s probably right. And the stage singers who were in the movie were probably the best voices: Marius, Enjolras, and Eponine. I also need to praise Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen as Madame and Mr. Thernardier, the comic relief. Carter actually seemed a little restrained, compared to her over-the-top portrayal of Beatrix Lestrange in Harry Potter. I’ve always liked her and enjoyed her in this. I have never liked Cohen or anything he has been in, most of which has been tasteless and offensive and not what I find funny. But here he was brilliant. So many moments where he added a detail beyond the script that fit the character. He was despicable, but he was good at it.
The young Cosette looked like the model for the original play poster, and did the “Castle on the Cloud” song almost to perfection. Amanda Seyfried may have looked the part well enough for the older Cosette, but vocally she was a disappointment. I have to say, though, that I haven’t heard a recording of Cosette that sounded the way I wanted. It needs a very high, lyric soprano, with control so it isn’t too heavy or too much of a birdlike trill. A young Kathleen Battle sound, I suggest. But, then, if it had been perfect, what would there be to talk about?
Even so, why talk about this movie here at the Spherical Model blog? Partly because it interests me, and partly because it connected some dots I’ve been thinking about.
This movie portrayed real misery. It starts 25 years after the French Revolution. Except for the War of 1812, there wasn’t such misery in the United States generally following our revolution. The two were different in a number of ways (I wrote about the comparison here), but the main way was that the United States is founded on protecting unalienable rights granted by God, that government cannot be allowed to encroach upon. France took God out of the equation and listed its Rights of Man, protected by government—and therefore subject to change by government. So the pitiful little revolution of the young band of students in Les Mis is just one of many along the way where people saw things they thought were wrong and tried to insist on change only to have a tyrannical force quell them.
My concern, particularly since the November election, is that those who are choosing the “French” way, the tyranny of the majority, if you will, do not understand when things have become unacceptable. I’m concerned that, until the misery is what we see in so many portrayals, both historic and commonly in fictional young adult novels (The Hunger Games series and the Matched series are two post-apocalyptic portrayals I’ve read recently), then people will keep believing we’re fine.
I can see clearly that society only thrives in the northern hemisphere of the Spherical Model. But the choice has been to sink well below the equator, with an assumption that floating up near the equator is good enough, and that there will be no inexorable force southward into tyranny. But that belief is folly, because whenever people accept minor tyrannies, they get major tyrannies and the misery that comes with them.
In the movie, the theme wasn’t, however, that all was hopeless; it was that, despite the miserable lives of the common people, choosing to love and to be generous and decent transcended the misery: “To love another person is to see the face of God.” Despite the “death of God” in the French Revolution, the people in this story talk of God openly and devoutly. He is there with them in their misery. And that is why there is hope that, beyond the story, a better life will come.
I’m always grateful when a work of art helps us connect love of God with hope, because that is the way back up out of the misery of tyranny, up to freedom, prosperity, and thriving civilization.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

By Small and Simple Things

Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins, image found here
During the holidays we got to see a couple of movies I’d been looking forward to. One was The Hobbit, a story I’ve loved, and loved sharing with my kids, for many years. It was a little disconcerting that this single novel, shorter than any of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, and much lighter weight, would need three three-hour movies to cover it. Nevertheless, I like being in that world, and seeing it. As my son Political Sphere says, “It’s a great travel ad for New Zealand.” Maybe so, but there were some moments in it that got me thinking about the important things.

It started with the beginning:
In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.
I relate quite a lot to these beloved hobbits. I like comfort. I like food (six times a day, if I’m up enough hours). I am known to say that adventure is a euphemism for hardship, and while I like the occasional outing or travel, any adventure requires a lot of preparation and recovery time. I like my own bed, my own kitchen, and my books and music. I prefer not being too cold or too hot or blown about by too much wind. (Full disclosure: I am sized more like a tall elf than a Halfling.)
Why would Gandalf choose such a person as Bilbo Baggins to join in on the important quest? He gives a little explanation to the Elf Queen Galadriel:
Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I’ve found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay—small acts of kindness and love.
I take heart in that, being Hobbit-like myself. I have thought about what I do with this blog. It is a little thing, a small effort to explain the formula for what brings thriving civilization, prosperity, and freedom. I can see how, if millions of people thought good thoughts concerning how we should bring about these fortunate ends, that could lead in a good direction (northward on the Spherical Model). Better yet if such thoughts lead people to live in ways that will “keep darkness at bay.” But I am not reaching millions.
I wonder at times if my mission is to say things in a way to lead others toward civilization, or simply to live such a life and be part of the critical mass. Maybe both. As long as I think the writing helps—even if it helps mainly me to get thoughts straight—I’ll keep writing. As for living it—I am predictable, like many hobbits. I will keep trying to do my share of small acts of kindness and love, mostly in my own home, with my own family, and in my relatively small circle of community. If that is not enough, then I will need the intervention of a Gandalf to sign me up for whatever is needed, whatever is possible that I can’t yet envision.
The title of today’s post comes from a scripture verse related to keeping records, to writing things down, when the purpose isn’t yet known:
By small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise.—Alma 37:6, Book of Mormon
On Saturday I saw a Facebook status by writer Andrew Klavan: “2013: the year conservatives begin to win the culture war.” I like the optimism of that. I also recognize the disappointment after this past year, when I thought so many things were well said, so many things put into perspective so anyone could see the truth, and yet the country’s direction went southward. So I hope he is right with this optimistic prediction. May this be the year we find ways to convince any who are capable of seeing truth that there is a known way to freedom, prosperity, and thriving civilization.